History professor Lori Clune gave a presentation Wednesday about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed at the height of the Cold War for conspiracy to commit espionage during a time of war.
The Rosenbergs were executed in June, 1953 under suspicion of passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.
The lecture, in the Henry Madden Library, was put on by the Literature, Arts, and Cultures of the Americas program (LACA) at Fresno State as a part of The Culture of the Americas Colloquium. Led by director Alex Espinoza, the program organizes presentation with professors and guest speakers about the research they are doing outside of teaching their classes.
“We want students to see that we don’t just teach,” Espinoza said. “That often times, there is this notion that professors just teach and that is all you do, but we actively engage in research around the things we are actually teaching. It provides an opportunity for students to see another side of their professor that isn’t just lecture.”
Clune, who earned her doctorate in U.S. history from UC Davis, went into detail on the case involving the Rosenbergs from a different angle – Latin America’s perception of and response to the issue.
“It is an interesting way to highlight this case, particularly how it was treated in Latin America because of the stance the Pope made and that kind of thing makes things more complicated,” Clune said.
As Clune was in the process of revising her doctoral thesis and looking for more information about the Rosenbergs in 2007, she hit a roadblock when documents about the couple in the National Archives seemed to have went missing, apparently removed by the State Department.
Two years later, in the fall of 2009, Clune received word from the archivist she was working with at the National Archives in College Park, Md. that he had discovered two boxes of material that could be related to her topic.
The boxes contained more than 900 documents which no researcher had ever seen before. Among these were memos and letters from U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, which expressed the disapproval of the Rosenbergs’ executions from the governments and people of more than 45 countries.
“I was very lucky to have such a committed archivist,” Clune said. “It took many months to go through each document and create a spreadsheet to chart the information.”
These never-before-seen documents have allowed Clune to delve deeper into the international reaction to the Rosenberg case than any historian has before.
The Rosenbergs, who were communists, were the only civilians to be executed during the “Red Scare” in the 1950s when most of America was worried about the spread of communism throughout the world and in America through propaganda and spies.
“The amount of fear from communism at this time, I don’t think can be overestimated,” Clune said.
While many people in the United States agreed that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg should be sentenced to death by the electric chair, Pope Pius XII disagreed with the judge’s ruling causing protests to break out across Latin America, where many people were Catholic.
Dalia Haitayan, a history graduate student, attended the talk.
“Every time I get to see faculty present their subject, I always get excited,” Haitayan said. “I think she kept the audience engaged. The way she told the Rosenberg story in relation to Central America, it was a refreshing presentation.”
Espinoza said LACA is designed to be an interdisciplinary faculty collaborative where professors can get together to share their research.
LACA plans to make these presentations a regular event on campus with professors from many different departments.
“Next semester, we are going to have a presentation by Brad Jones of the history department as well as a graduate student,” Espinoza said. “We want to give graduate students an opportunity to present their work, so they can start professionalizing themselves.”
There are three presentations this semester, although the organization has been receiving requests from faculty around the university. In the future, there may be more. Later this month, Keith Jordan, of the art and design department, will be speaking on Toltec art.
Espinoza said, “When students see their professors questioning things, why certain things are the way they are, and they then go out and pursue that knowledge to better their scholarship, I think it’s important so students can see their professors as more than lecturers.”